Party Lines / Kadima Going Out With a Bang and a Party

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This hotel, in Kfar Maccabiah, specializes in the hosting of conferences, but it is also very popular for "day use," forbidden trysts. On Tuesday, the following things were happening here: Aya and Matan's wedding; a pitch for a "two apartments for NIS 1 million" scheme; a "toxic substances supervisors' course"; a "weight-loss workshop through the mirror of movement" - and a Kadima election rally. "A Natural Place for Business and Pleasure," declare the paper napkins at Kfar Maccabiah.

In a smallish conference room on the second floor, the eminences of the largest party in the outgoing Knesset crowd around a table, along with all the Kadima-affiliated mayors, council heads and their deputies.

Three cream cakes (dreadful ), four bottles of juice (cloying ), one former prime minister and one former defense minister face four minor league television cameras. The atmosphere is summed up best of all by the expression on the face of outgoing MK Ronit Tirosh. According to the polls, she will not be in the next Knesset. Kadima's face is like hers, and like those of a number of other Knesset members who have bothered to show up. Kadima presents: a pre-end-of-term party.

The mayors and council heads are in fact in quite a festive mood. These are the "field" activists - ranging from the head of the Arava regional council, two weeks on the job, to the mayor of Ramat Gan, 24 years in office, and including a council member from Tirat Carmel and also Nehemiah Raibi from Moshav Midrakh Oz. Nearly all of them are men, with a faded tie dangling over a potbelly, a mobile phone in hand, hugs and shoulder slapping. Only Eli Aflalo makes a real entrance, blowing kisses into the air. He, at least, is sitting pretty: He left the Knesset last year to become (co- ) chairman of the Jewish National Fund.

Thus several dozen wheeler-dealers are crammed into a conference room too small to hold them; Kadima no longer takes the risk of renting a larger hall.

A party hack without a chair: "Couldn't you have reserved a larger room? Kadima is so big."

A television cameraman: "Cohanim [descendants of the traditional priestly caste in Judaism] are not allowed in here. It's a graveyard."

The moderator, Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri, is in fact optimistic: "Kadima will move forward, gradually - I don't want to think about a government without [party chairman MK] Shaul [Mofaz] as defense minister."

No. 11 on the slate, Mati Yogev from Bat Hefer, is daydreaming about 15 Knesset seats so she will be a "senior female MK." In the meantime, though, Yogev complains that on television they show images of all the leaders of major parties, including Chaim Amsallem, and only Mofaz is left out.

The face of the guest of honor, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is also that of a person in mourning. Nor is he as dapper as he used to be: The designer suits have been replaced by a modest windbreaker. It is as though the brilliance, the cynicism and the arrogance had never been. But today he is the guest of honor; today they are applauding him.

Shaul Mofaz is laconic. "Good afternoon. I am very excited to see the local authority heads here," says the leader, attempting to fake an orgasm. Now and then his fingers drum irritably on the table.

Then he hands the stage and the attention over to the former prime minister, who does not cease to praise him (Mofaz ) to his face: "In the entire gallery, I don't know anyone who has Shaul's biography, experience and ability," Olmert avows, pronouncing Shaul with the stress on the last syllable. It was Olmert who appointed Mofaz minister of transportation and road safety, despite his rare background experience and ability.

"Mofaz is strong on defense. One of our own," declares an election poster someone has taken the trouble to hang in the background. Two dashing bodyguards stand beside it like two mummies - the one for Olmert and the other for Mofaz. Olmert's is heftier and taller.

Olmert, the elder statesman, is now a concerned citizen. He is in favor of a cut of billions of shekels in the defense budget and he does not hesitate to say so; he thinks this is the strangest election race in which he has ever participated since his first in 1969. No one, he says, is speaking the truth that will be impossible to evade after the election. Everyone is running away from the fateful problems and he thinks Israel is quickly sliding down the slope on its way to becoming a bi-national state.

But Olmert no longer makes the front page. "Two states - or the State of Israel will cease to exist," was once the resounding lead headline in Haaretz.

Now he is only trying to breathe some faint hope into this gloomy gathering: "Sitting here in this modest room, I feel something truer and righter than on the big stages with a diva who, for NIS 80,000, performs a wonderful song for the wrong man," he suggests, referring to a recent campaign appearance for Netanyahu by singer Sarit Hadad.

In the meantime, Olmert can only take consolation from Lankri's words: "Your influence on the citizens of the State of Israel is great and you will continue with us to victory."

And no one, but no one, in this crowded room has any idea of what influence he is talking about and what victory he has in mind.

Shaul Mofaz, left, and Ehud Olmert at the Kadima gathering last week.Credit: Alex Levac

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